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May 27, 2017
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Soultrain.com Interview 

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Strolling down memory lane and thinking back on the New Jack Swing era wouldn’t be complete unless you mentioned the likes of Grammy winning singer-producer Jeff Redd. From the 1991 club banger “You Called and Told Me” from the film Strictly Business, the to the song “I Found Lovin’,” Jeff Redd was on his way to making an undeniable mark in music history. As fate would have it, Jeff Redd’s contribution to the music industry would have a long lasting impact. He is responsible for discovering the likes of Mary J. Blige and helping to secure her signing to Uptown Records. Later, Redd would put the brakes on his own career and become an award- winning A&R executive that helped shape the sound of the 90s through this work with artists like SWV, Bobby Brown, Regina Belle, Field Mob, Allure, and K-Ci & JoJo.

Now nearly 2 decades later after taking a break from being an artist, Jeff Redd is back center stage singing and touring and operating his own label, Sol Real Records.

SoulTrain.com caught up with Jeff Redd to discuss his musical journey and the evolution of the music industry.

SoulTrain.com: It’s been a while.  What have you been up to over the years?

Jeff Redd: Well, I actually stopped being an artist in 1991.  For about 15 years I was in A&R and became an executive during that time for MCA.

SoulTrain.com: What prompted you to stop being an artist?

Jeff Redd: I just got tired  of everything about  being an artist—I had a  top 20 record, gold  singles, and when I was  at Uptown, I just didn’t feel like I was getting the attention that I needed.  I went to EMI and right when my album was about to come out they got rid of their whole black artist division; that was like in 1994. So from 1994-1996 I actually started managing a couple of rap groups. Then in 1996 I was asked to become an executive at MCA, and that wasn’t something that I was really looking for, but I moved to California to do it. I had a lot of hit records, had a lot of fun, and a lot of experiences, and had a successful run until MCA closed their doors in 2003. After that I started my own label, Sol Real Records, and released a compilation album with three acts that I was very excited about, and those acts were talented but they had no drive. I came back to New York in 2006 to promote the compilation, and my mother had fallen ill, so I moved back to New York to take care of her. I decided to start performing again. I went from a show of 25 people, to the next year performing in front of 9,000 people.

SoulTrain.com:  What has been the highlight of your career?

Jeff Redd: I have a few highlights. One would be [that] I got my record deal in 1988, so I’ve been in the music business for 26 years. Another would be to take K-Ci and JoJo from Jodeci and, against all odds, create this album called Love Always. People said I would be killing their career because these guys are bad boys, with the tattoos, and no shirts, cursing and all that stuff. So I said we are going to make an album that people can listen to, and I was able to accomplish that because we sold 5 million albums. The other albums I worked on with them, we ended up selling over 12 million albums, so that was another highlight. Also, getting a Grammy nomination for a Regina Belle album that I did, called Believe in Me. The label really wasn’t behind it; they actually dropped Regina Belle and a week after they dropped her, that album was nominated for a Grammy, so that’s another highlight.  It’s really just about being able to turn things that are unexpected and turn them into something. There have been  a lot of great moments, but I still have those moments and being able to perform now and still be relevant after 26 years, so that’s highlight enough (laughs).  I’m curious to see the longevity of Rick Ross, Lil Wayne and other artists like that.  Will they be doing shows 25 years from now?

Jeff Redd: I think Mary J. Blige has been able to stand the test of time and is still relevant. Bobby Brown and K-Ci & JoJo are great artists, but they are their own worst enemy. We brought Puff (Diddy) on at Uptown back in 89-90.  He was a student coming out of Howard University—he would come up on a Wednesday or Thursday, stay a few days working and go back to D.C., so it’s amazing to see him have his own label, his own television channel and still being relevant.

SoulTrain.com: Music lovers who were around during that time and really in tune with music consider a lot of the music you helped put out there—and even your own music—classics of our generation.  Do you think that the music being released these days will be considered classics in 15-20 years?

Jeff Redd: I don’t know, because this generation throws away things, they don’t hold on to anything. I started noticing that when I started seeing these CD shops where you can return used CDs.  When I was growing up you would go buy and album and you would cherish that album. Today, music isn’t something you hold onto, it’s just something you download from cyberspace. You don’t know who the credits are, you don’t know who produced it, wrote it, and most of the time you don’t even know who it is that’s even singing or rapping. This generation and the generations after that, I just don’t know. I don’t hear a Ne-Yo record on the radio anymore.  He’s a great writer and artist, but they don’t even play his music anymore like that on the radio. I just don’t know what this generation holds on to; it seems like nothing, it’s disposable. Movies might be the only thing that you have to go experience. When we were coming up, it was an experience to wake up on Saturday morning, go to the record store, listen to the record, buy the record, and hold onto it. I was a DJ back then, so I would go get a special mix of the record, play it in the club and people would be like, what is that? I don’t know that we will ever see that again. Nobody even reads the linear notes anymore, they just use an app on their phone to find out who sings what they want to hear, and download the song.

SoulTrain.com: What do you think it means in terms of the artist?

Jeff Redd: I think back to a time when artists like Master P talked about owning their own masters. I think when the industry heard that, this guy came along with the site Napster so people could download music for free. It becomes a black and white thing but I have to speak on it.  I think people just throw away music. Technology has a lot to do with it and the same with movies. I prefer if I go on a date to actually go to the movies, because it’s still there. If you want music, I can just say hey, check this out, I’ll email you the record and you download it. People took the value out of music and took it down to a download. Those downloads have turned into 30 second clips. For example, so now everyone has the new Jeff Redd ringtone, and it’s just 30 seconds but that’s considered people buying your record a 99 cent download. So if these artists have 500 downloads, all they are getting is the hook. We used to go into the studio back in the day to get a mix; we would spend days in the studio working on it. Today, it doesn’t take all that, all you are going to do is mix this song then convert it back to an MP3 and it loses all of its bang and power. Listen to an album from the 70s or even the 80s, the instrumentation and the sound is totally different than it is today. All you hear today is that boom, boom, boom, and it has lost its quality.

SoulTrain.com: Now some artists sign to these labels, and they are never heard from again. Some artists can’t get a deal because they are told they have to get their YouTube views up, or they have to get their Twitter followers up.  Is this the new normal now, the only way artists can get a deal?

Jeff Redd: That’s the only way you can get a deal. Things are not the same anymore. When MCA closed their doors in 2003, there were echoes in the hall that R&B is dead. There were departments being created right before they closed—called Independent Research—and what they would do is go to things like Sound Scan early in the morning and print all these numbers out and go after artists that way. So if you fast forward 11 years, they are still doing the same thing essentially. The artists have really got to do all of the groundwork. They have to create a buzz for the labels to research then they will come after them to give them a deal. So for the folks that are making a demo and trying to get a deal, they obviously don’t know what’s going on today. So to make a great record and to get a record deal, that just doesn’t exist anymore, you have to get your online presence up to a great level and then they will come after you. So that’s where we are now.  Is it about talent? No, it’s about numbers.

SoulTrain.com: Do you think R&B is dead?

Jeff Redd: I never thought R&B died. How could it die when I was over at Interscope and they put 50 Cent’s song out “In the Club,” and that basically had a melody singing, so how are you going to tell me that R&B is dead? It never died. The industry wants you to believe that it’s dead so now that it will be resurrected through the likes of Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake, so now R&B is coming back but it has a new face. It’s all part of a devised plan; the industry has a 15 to 20 year plan that they are going to phase out certain things and bring them back.  They did the same thing with jazz. Now with that music, as good as it is, it still lacks soul and that’s something you can’t manufacture, you have to have that.

SoulTrain.com: What’s next for you? Can fans expect new music?

Jeff Redd: I am working on a project now. I’m taking on a whole different direction and I’m really excited about it and I’m not doing it for any other reason except to just have fun. I have a product called Sol Real Butter which is a shea butter that I’m getting ready to launch in May. I have a romance novel that I’m finishing up that I hope to put out in May. The novel is about the pursuit of love and looking for love in all the wrong places and what happens when you compromise yourself for love. There’s no title for it yet.

SoulTrain.com:  Looking back, what would you say has been one of the biggest lessons that you have learned throughout your career so far?

Jeff Redd: There are a few lessons, but one in particular is that you have to be true to your art. You can’t follow what’s going on. You have to be true to what you feel in your heart, because that’s what blows up most of the time. People will bring you demos about killing folks, all these women, and buying out the bar, riding down 95 and on and on, but that’s the stuff they are hearing on other records—they aren’t doing those things. So I’m telling people to be true to their craft, but then some artists are like well that’s what people want to hear these days. The lesson behind that is you have to be true to yourself. Another lesson is to keep God first in everything that you do. Also, you can’t let the industry turn you out. I’m starting to see people that I’ve been in the business with, get addicted to the lifestyle the industry offers. Once that lifestyle changed everybody bugged out and started doing whatever they had to do to stay relevant and I was never that guy. I’m not going to do just anything so that I can be relevant. Everything still happened for me in a great way so I can go to sleep at night and know that I didn’t do anything to sacrifice my integrity.

-Shameika Rene’

 

Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, Mosaic Magazine Charlotte, or her own websites, www.themofochronicles.com and www.conversationswithmeik.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.

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